Sunday, August 21, 2016

Hypocrisy


Literature is full of satirical and other corrective works about mankind’s hypocritical propensity. Shakespeare is full of hypocrites. One of the most expertly drawn is King Claudius in Hamlet. He pretends to be God’s honest representative on earth and yet on the inside he is murderous, adulterous and, by Elizabethan standards, incestuous. In short, he is the worst kind of scoundrel in the elaborate trappings of royalty. Iago in Othello is another out and out hypocrite. Even though this bigot is filled with lies, lust, manipulation and ambition, he is so skillful as a hypocrite that he boasts the nickname, “Honest Iago.”

The French are particularly good at identifying and portraying the hypocritical. Consider Moliere’s heavy-handed satire Tartuffe, in which the title character, an ostensibly pious priest, is actually lustful, greedy and thieving. American writers are quite good at nailing the hypocrite, too, as in novels such as Elmer Gantry and poems like “Richard Cory.” The title character of this latter work gives the impression of having everything that would make one happy, but in reality he is so miserable as to give up on life.

I can’t help but look into more ancient literature on the subject. One certainly finds it in Aesop, Boccaccio and Chaucer. Certainly we confront well-drawn examples of it in scripture. After ingesting the problematic pomegranate, Adam tried to hide. The fig leaf shorts gave him away to God, to whom no secrets are hidden. Interestingly, God seems to understand Adam’s hypocrisy and provides a buckskin outfit, having presciently shed first blood as a covering.

We also think of Tamar, who pretended to be something she was not in order to receive a lawful heir and King Saul, who tried to “clothe” David with his own armor, thereby crippling him. But David rejected this “mask” and succeeded against all odds by being himself—a shepherd boy with a shepherd’s weapons. He gave Goliath a headache no aspirin could cure.

Perhaps you remember prideful Nebuchadnezzar, who wore the mask of Godlikeness. “Look what I have done here in Babylon,” he said, not giving deity a second thought. So God stripped him of this prideful “mask” and showed him that, without God, he is no more than a beast of the field. Belshazzar had similar pride as his progenitor, demonstrating his “power” by drinking wine from Jehovah’s cups. That is when the writing on the wall cut through everything and stripped him of his kingdom.

Of course, in the New Testament, Judas was the ultimate hypocrite, even to the point of that betraying kiss. Peter’s hypocrisy was also exposed when he denied even knowing the Lord. Interestingly, he became a powerful preacher in the Book of Acts, though he still had a touch of hypocrisy concerning food. Paul set him straight on that one. In the Christian worldview, the sacrifice of Jesus is the covering for mankind’s bent towards hypocrisy. Scripture teaches that his followers are being conformed to his image and that God sees those who believe as pure through that sacrifice.  

Monday, August 1, 2016

How Tweet it is


Communication was not as instantaneous in 1956 as it is today, 60 years later. I started to work as a bicycle messenger for Western Union that year and I learned how the system worked. If a mother in El Dorado wanted to send some money to her son in Houston, she would come to our office and fill out the papers, handing over the money to be “sent” and a small fee. The teletype operator would then communicate with the Houston office and a messenger there would deliver a notification to the son’s address as specified that some money had “arrived” at the Western Union office and the son would go pick it up. Similarly, I delivered a lot of money order notifications in El Dorado and people were glad to see me coming.

Occasionally, however, some would get the idea that you could “wire” other things besides money. One lady wanted to wire a gallon of buttermilk to her son in California. I appreciated the kindness of the clerk as she explained to the lady that we did not actually attach things to a wire and send them along. But my point is that communication was a little more difficult 60 years ago than it is today. For example, I had occasion to deliver messages to the telephone company from time to time and witnessed an expansive switchboard, staffed by a dozen or so operators. The hum of voices in that place let you know that people were calling each other regularly in El Dorado: “Operator,” “Number please?” “That line is busy,” “Just a moment,” “That phone is out of service,” etc. These were the days before El Dorado had dial phones and people relied on the operator to connect them to their party.

Our pre-dial phone number was 2226J. I was with Pop, who was not a frequent telephone user, when he had to make a call home from a local lumber company. He picked up the phone and waited until he heard the kind voice on the other end say “operator.” Then Pop gave the number as he had it in his head, “Three deuces, a six and a Jack.” Apparently, the operator had no problem with his way of presenting the number and he was connected forthwith.

Sixty years later we have cell phones, e-mail and other Internet features such as twitter. These possibilities for instantaneous communication can and do get people into trouble. When I was a kid, “secure” communication meant going on a camping trip to the Ouachita River and talking to buddies, knowing that what was said on the river stayed on the river. If any of those communications were “leaked” the consequences were far beyond ostracizing, even to the point of exile and loss of reputation. Kids learned to be careful with what they said because of the severity of the consequences for breaching confidences.

Thus, we were thoughtful before speaking, pondering the possible consequences of our words. That is why I like good poetry. The artist struggles until the words are exactly right for expressing, as far as possible, an accurate sensory impression of what is in her head. Today, all of us, especially those who would lead, must think before speaking, writing or tweeting. How tweet it is!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Leader's Voice


Washington, Arkansas’s Mayor John Eakin, who was also editor of the Washington Telegraph Newspaper, managed to keep a sane point of view at a time of confusing foment. Not a single Union soldier had been to his city during the War Between the States, but at the end of the costly and bloody conflict, troops from Michigan came marching in, ostensibly to keep order. Emotions amongst the citizenry ranged from fear to resentment to anger to frustration. So, the Yale-educated mayor wrote a poignant editorial for the paper and made an impassioned speech.

In these, he made it clear that all duties of patriotism concerning the Confederacy died when President Davis and his cabinet were captured and when the Southern congress dispersed never to re-form. He also mentioned the final surrender of the last army of the South under General Smith. He held out no hope of the reassembling of the Confederate government. Mayor Eakin showed the futility of allegiance to that government for, in his words, “nothing remains to which allegiance may attach.”

His argument was clear, concise, cogent and apparently well-received by the majority of citizens who just wanted to regain a sense of normalcy. Many agreed when the mayor looked at the flag of the United States flying in front of the courthouse and said, “It is good to see the old flag flying here again.” But there were those who could not accept the new configuration. To these, Eakin said they should find a new country, probably meaning Mexico just to the south. Those who stayed, the great majority, were required to sign an oath of loyalty to the United States which included this phrase: “I will abide by…proclamations which have been made during the existing rebellion with reference to the emancipation of slaves, so help me God.”

The wife of a local former slave-holder in Washington, Mrs. Carrigan, made an entry in her dairy just after the war expressing great concern for former slaves who were homeless, wandering about the streets of Washington with no place to lay their heads. I know that must have been a terrifying condition with no local prospects for a livelihood in the place called home for so long. The price of freedom was great for all concerned. But freedom finds a way in the United States of America.

In every age, leaders emerge like John Eakin, who energetically acted as educator and encourager of the populace through his editorial skills and rhetorical acumen. Eakin had the gift of seeing what we sometimes call “the big picture.” Provincial in his personal tastes, he was nonetheless cognizant of the world beyond his borders. He had read history and he had a deep understanding of the human heart in conflict with itself. He knew as we often forget that there was not a single motive for the great war, but many motives, some of them wildly contradictory. And, mainly, he knew the necessity for a powerful persuasive voice, which he provided eloquently.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Gratitude


Noses turned up at manna made God burning mad. But, Moses prayed and the fire went out. Like Moses, true leaders pray for their people. Remember Daniel in chapter nine of his book? He repented on behalf of his people and asked God to deliver them because of his mercy, not because of any goodness on their part. We even have a record of Jesus praying for us here in the 21st Century in John 17. He was praying for the disciples and then shifted to those who would believe because of their efforts—that’s us. What did he pray for? Unity. At one point, he even said the world would believe in him because of our love for each other.

But, back to that manna. I cannot imagine complaining about food sent from Heaven, can you. It just about had to be the perfect food, with all the ingredients to nourish people in a top notch fashion. But they were tired of it. The word “manna” is the equivalent of the Hebrew “what’s this stuff?” (I heard that on television from a Catholic priest). In the Book of Numbers we read that the travelling horde of Hebrews following Moses to the promised land got to thinking back about those good fish they used to eat. They were so readily available in the Nile and the stock ponds. They also longed for cucumbers, melons, onions, leeks and garlic. None of these delicacies were available out there in the wilderness. Manna was not enough for them—they wanted meat.

In effect, God said, “They want meat? I will give them meat to eat until it comes out their nostrils.” He sent an overabundance of quail, blown in from the sea. There were so many! They were lying three feet deep all around the camp and a day’s walk in every direction. Each man gathered close to two tons of quail. So, they had a quail feast and their complaint and gluttony was so displeasing to the Lord that many got sick and died.

There was other complaining going on, too. Even Moses complained to God that he was not able to lead those folks all by himself. But that kind of prayer did not bother God at all. He simply had Moses name 70 elders of the people as helpers and placed an anointing to prophesy upon them. The end of that story is that the people complained about a couple of Elders—Eldad and Medad—who were not selected as part of the 70 and yet were prophesying. Moses’ response was cool. He said, let them prophesy. I wish all of you would do so.

I conclude that the God of the Bible hated complaint and we see later that he loves gratitude that results in contentment. In effect, gratitude is riches and complaint is poverty. When God told Adam he could have all the fruit of the garden except that from one tree, he should have been grateful and content. Moderation would have saved a world of trouble.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Flybird Nord and the Wise Old Man


When the wise old man was working on an Arizona ranch back in the 1950s, he became acquainted with the cowboy character actor Flybird Nord, who, besides being in demand in Hollywood, was an actual foreman for the Circle-K. He had mentioned Mr. Nord to me several times, usually noting his desire to do actual work apart from the movie set but I did not know he had mentioned me to the actor. Our home phone rang at around noon on Independence Day.

“Dr. Ford, this is Flybird Nord.”

“Uh, yes sir, you are a friend of…”

“Yes. I just talked to him. He called from Bright Leaf there in Atlanta and I am flying out to visit him. I will be happy to stop by if you and Mrs. Ford would care to accompany me. It will be a quick turnaround but we are both getting kind of long in the tooth, so I really wanted this visit.”

I had a lot of questions, such as, how old are you now? Do you still fly your own airplane? Weren’t you a producer for Shane and Giant? You know, things like that. So, I was not a little comforted by his next statement.

“My son will be flying us out. I am 94 and do not pilot much anymore. Shall I pick you up at the Hope airport or Texarkana?”

Well, we chose Texarkana and it was a joy to meet Mr. Nord there at the airport. He still sported the droopy Western mustache and, though a little stooped, still had his trademark bowlegged swagger. His boots were ostrich with silver inlays. The airplane was bigger than I had expected and we actually had a dour cowgirl flight attendant. The younger Nord looked more like a pro wrestler that the son of his father. I immediately discerned that he visited the gym regularly, as well as the tattoo parlor.

The wise old man was thrilled to see his old friend and tickled that my wife and I were along for the visit. The most interesting part of our time there was the rich conversations of the cowboy actor and the wise old man. In discussing today’s unusual political configurations, they identified what they called a zeitgeist of independence. The wise old man concluded that 1776 was the first Brexit borne of the desire of English-speaking peoples for independence. These two old fellows gave a whole new meaning to Independence Day.

Our muscular pilot and the dour attendant went out in the rental car and found some of the best ribs imaginable. When the wise old man said the blessing, he did so in this fashion, “Lord, you are good. You gave us choice and chose to make this crowd here, my dear friends. I am glad you did. Even though we value our independence as a country, we never want to think ourselves independent of our Father in heaven who knows what to do with ribs. Plant us by the river, Lord, and help us to produce fruit, even in old age. Amen. Pass the potato salad.”

Monday, June 27, 2016

In the Beginning


I treasure the turtle image Galapagos officials stamped on my passport. It is a souvenir of a life-changing experience for me and for others on the trip. Because I was dean at a Florida college, the biology faculty invited me to go along on a summer field trip to those extraordinary islands to observe the pedagogy as well as the amazing flora and fauna. You see, every other summer, a couple of our biology professors and a theology professor took 15 to 20 science majors down there to walk in the steps of Charles Darwin. During the journey, we all read books about Darwin’s theory and, each evening, heard lectures from the theology prof, balanced by discussion led by the scientists.

We flew into the largest of the complex of islands and boarded The Corinthian, a large boat that would be our home for the eight-day tour of the region. In a sense, every morning we opened our eyes to a new world, as each island is unique: some desert, some jungle, some forested and some tropical. I had heard our biology folks say that animals had not learned to fear humans down there, but I was not expecting a mocking bird to land on my shoulder. When that happened, the leader of our group said, “The bird sees your water bottle, but don’t give it any water because the national park folks do not want the birds to become dependent on tourists for their water.” I obeyed, but was certainly tempted not to. I had never seen such a thirsty look in a bird’s eye.

The sea lions were not afraid of us either. They just gave us a look as if to say, “Hello, folks, don’t step on me or my kin.” We went for a swim right there in the colony and some of the younger ones came in with us. It is an eerie feeling to be nuzzled by a sea lion pup. They are playful, very much like canine puppies. Penguins also darted about as we swam, yes, right there on the equator.

Frigate birds let you get up close enough to watch their mating ritual, namely blowing their red throat sack out and waving their extended wings while they look to the heavens. That was a sight to see, as was our leader’s imitation of the phenomenon. He carried a red scarf with him for just the purpose of hilarious reenactment. Students loved to watch their professor in his role as frigate bird seeking a mate.

Other birds such as the blue-footed booby and the red-footed booby allowed close observation as well. I read that Darwin was going to shoot one for observation, but discovered he did not have to do that. He could get up close and personal without taking a life. I recall actually handing a twig to a booby for her nest. She almost said thank you.

On the way back to Florida, we landed in Quito, where we took pictures standing on the equator and feasted on the best steak in the world. It was our frigate bird professor’s birthday and we had a wonderful meal and celebration in a restaurant overlooking the sparkling city. When we landed in Miami, I felt as if I had been to the beginning of the world in the Book of Genesis.

 

 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Dog Language


Dog languages specialize very rapidly compared to that of humans. No one knows that better than a veterinarian. The reason dogs bark so much in the reception area is that they do not understand each other. They are trying to pick up strains of a familiar tongue to no avail.

Bicycle riders also know that. Since dogs are not highly mobile, short distances make all the difference in the way they speak. As a linguist and a bicyclist, I have noticed the phenomenon when these protective creatures come out at me as I ride by. When I first deciphered a dog language, I lived in Magnolia, Ark. On the west side of town, the dogs had an accent that became very familiar to me. But the mere distance of five miles made a huge difference. “Get away from my yard” in western Magnolia language is: “abbah bah bah abbah arr arr arr abbah mmmgh,” whereas the same statement out towards Logoly State Park can be rendered phonetically as: “woop wooppy warp warp warp gmmph mmgh graph.” So, you see, an entirely new language group exists in just a short distance.

I came to understand this more fully as I considered what the dogs may be saying to me (or about me) according to their body type. I suppose I am indebted to Sheldon’s personality type classifications as I interpret these canine statements. The large muscular dogs often say, by interpretation, “Get that silly bicycle out of here before I eat your leg.” When these big dogs said that, I generally turned the crank as rapidly as possible yelling in my own language, “No dog!” It usually worked. Once I squirted a Doberman with my water bottle and he just sat down and laughed his head off.

Now the fat, happy dogs such as hounds are usually just saying, “Hello, bicyclist. Let me run along here beside you and please my master. He actually thinks I protect the place.” All I have to do to get rid of these floppy animals is to say, again, in my own language, since most are bilingual, “Supper!” That turns them homeward every time.

The most dangerous animals are the little intellectual ones such as dachshunds and Shih Tzus. When they get after you, they are saying, “Hey, you, I am going to trick you into crashing and go for your throat.” They run to and fro directly in front of your bicycle. The best remedy for these is to learn their names. They are often called, “Charlie,” or “Francine” or “Fred” or “Fritz.” Call out their name in English and they will stop, tilt their coiffured head and say, “Where do I know you from?”

So, if you are a dog linguist and a bicyclist, you have an advantage out there on the dangerous highways and backroads of life. Just remember that you have to be multilingual if you wish to understand them. What a dog says in De Queen may be utterly indecipherable in Lockesburg.